California Department of Transportation

Last Updated: Monday, June 1, 2015 10:40 AM

Purpose and Need

This web site is an outgrowth of the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) Purpose and Need Quality Team, which was convened in March of 2002 and included members from Transportation Planning, Environmental Analysis, Design, Project Management and Legal, from Headquarters and five Caltrans Districts. For more information about the Team and its findings, see the Team's Final Report.

The Team examined ways to improve the process of preparing well-defined Purpose and Need statements for transportation projects. One key element that the Team identified was the need to make guidance and tools about Purpose and Need statements more readily available. The Team made the creation of a web site part of its implementation plan.

The goal of this web site is to provide improved access to tools and resources to help planners, designers, and managers prepare quality Purpose and Need statements that are appropriate to each stage of project planning and delivery. Most of the resources and tools provided here were compiled or developed by the Purpose and Need Quality Team.

Definition and Background Information

A project’s “Need” is an identified transportation deficiency or problem, and its “Purpose” is the set of objectives that will be met to address the transportation deficiency. A reasonable solution or range of solutions is developed and evaluated based on these objectives.

A clear, concise, well justified Purpose and Need statement is the foundation of every transportation project. It is critical for identifying a reasonable range of project alternatives; it expedites project delivery; and it leads to a more precisely defined project scope, schedule, and cost. Just as importantly, it explains to the public, stakeholders, and decision makers that the expenditure of funds is necessary and worthwhile, and that the project‘s priority relative to other transportation projects is warranted. It ensures that the right project is built.

A quality Purpose and Need statement also meets the requirements of federal and state regulations: an Environmental Impact Statement shall “briefly specify the underlying purpose and need to which the agency is responding in proposing the alternatives including the proposed action” (40 CFR §1502.13); an Environmental Impact Report shall “contain a statement of objectives sought by the proposed project” and it “should include the underlying purpose of the project” [14 CCR §151.24(b)].

A project’s basic purpose and need must be founded in a transportation planning document and will remain consistent throughout project development. As supporting data and input are assembled during the project approval process, these can be used to refine the solutions being considered, thereby permitting a more focused analysis of those solutions that truly address the problem to be solved. All subsequent project activities must reflect this final project purpose and need. Key factors in the successful development and refinement of a sound Purpose and Need statement include broad participation from functional units and stakeholders. It is also crucial that project data are transmitted and retained for each phase of the project development process.

Purpose and Need, or Need and Purpose - Which is it??

The need for a project drives its purpose; this is how the phrase “need and purpose” came into usage. It conveys how practitioners should approach this topic: first define the need(s) for a project, and the project purpose(s) will flow from that. However, ”purpose and need” is the expression most commonly seen in statutes and regulations, and it is also more commonly used in case law, guidance, and general practice. Based on this preponderance of usage, the Purpose and Need Team and its sponsors and advisors recommend that practitioners retain the statutory usage and refer to “purpose and need.”